Like most larger cities, Winnipeg has its share of panhandlers that stand on boulevards asking for money from stopped cars with cardboard signs. Many people don’t like that and would love to see that changed, and in fact it is technically illegal. But those people, it seems to me, don’t really care how the panhandlers are gone or where they go – as long as they’re not personally bothered any more (the issue came up during our last civic elections, and many were quite vocal about their opinions).
While there are good solutions to this issue and homelessness in general (and other North American cities are paving the way there), it’s not a simple fix, and the reasons people end up on the street are both numerous and diverse.
So, what can one guy like me do? Probably more than I realize. In any case, I know that I don’t want to give money. So what my wife and I are doing is giving out lunch bags every time we’re asked for money instead.
The idea initially came from a good friend of mine, who kept juice boxes and granola bars in his car for that very purpose. When I told my wife about the idea, and how I’d like to do it, she suggested we could do better than that. So we went to Dollarama and got supplies.
Each ziplock bag contains a juice box (unfortunate in most Winnipeg seasons – hot in the summer, frozen in the winter), a chicken salad and cracker pre-made package, and a snack of some sort. Our current bags have Welch’s fruit gummies, but in the past we’ve had cookies, graham crackers, and granola bars. Finally, we started adding Worther’s hard candies to the bags.
Each bag costs less than $3.00 (seriously), and we keep a few of them in the console of our car for easy access, and about 10 in the trunk to replenish it as needed. It’s simple. It’s cheap. We give the panhandlers dignity instead of ignoring them (or worse), and show them that we care – even if it’s not a lot.
Now, I’m not saying all this to brag. Realistically we’re not doing much to help the overall problem, although we see we’re making a small difference in people’s lives when they smile in surprise and thankfulness when we hand them a bag.
No, the reason I’m writing about this is because I wonder why more people don’t do it, and I wish they did.
So what do you do, if anything? Will you consider doing this too, or something like it? And if you have ideas on how could we make our bags better, yet still easy & cost-effective, please share them in the comments!